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Tuesday 31 May 2011

Magnificent Mull - Part 2.

Welcome to the second part of my account of our mid-May holiday on the wonderful Scottish island of Mull.

Sunday15th May

We were up fairly early this day, and the prospect for the weather was not good. As there was a bit of a lull in the rain I decided on a scout around the outside of the cottage before breakfast. At 6.51 a pair of Shelduck flew past. At 6.53 a Gannet passed, followed by another at 6.56 when there was a Great Northern Diver off-shore also. The Diver was still there when, at 7.17 an Otter swam into view. At first it was a bit far away, but it just swam towards me until it noticed me standing there and decided to retreat to a safer distance.

Shelduck - Grasspoint

Gannet - Grasspoint

Great Northern Diver - Grasspoint

Otter - Grasspoint

It was time to tear myself away from all this excitement and go in for breakfast. The weather continued to be fairly foul and so we decided to stay at the cottage for the morning and go out for a picnic lunch later.

Great Black-backed Gull - Grasspoint
My wife stayed indoors and read for much of the time. I ventured outside whenever the rain let up a bit. However, the next two images were taken through the glass of the cottage windows. Incidentally, the Highland Cattle are known as 'hairy coos' in these parts!

Highland Cattle - Grasspoint

Meadow Pipit - Grasspoint

Grasspoint is a well known wildlife watching place, and several of the tour guides bring groups there. They were not having a very good time this day, due to the weather, and I felt quite sorry for them. I was able to find a very distant Black Guillemot for one of the groups (too far for photography - particularly in the poor visibility conditions).

Oystercatcher - Grasspoint
The Cormorant, below, was having quite a lot of success in its fishing. Its diet seemed to be quite varied. In the first image it has caught an eel-like creature which is yellowish in colour. In the second image it has a thin silver-coloured fish with a fan-shaped tail. If there are any sea fishermen out there who can give some idea as to what was being caught, I'd be interested to hear.

Cormorant - Grasspoint

Shag - Grasspoint

Just to give you some idea as to how poor the visibility and light was, the following image shows the 'Thalassa' passing Grasspoint at 11.30 that morning - and I've even enhanced the contrast a bit!!

Thalassa - passing Grasspoint

Oystercatcher - Grasspoint

One of the tour guides was very dismissive of the likelihood to his group when I told him that I'd seen an Otter earlier. What a shame that he didn't hang around a bit longer!! This one arrived with a fish, and proceeded to eat it right in front of me, only seeming to notice me when it'd finished! I love the way it used its front feet to hold the fish. I'd be surprised if his group had a better view of an Otter that day!!

Otter - Grasspoint

We had our picnic lunch near the bridge at the other end of the Grasspoint road, with nothing exciting seen during that time. After this we went to Torosay Castle (closed), and investigated the Isle of Mull Railway (closed down on May 2nd!). Little in the way of birds was seen so I contented myself with a shot of a Song Thrush.

Song Thrush - Torosay Castle

As we left Torosay Castle we spotted a Mountain Hare - still with a lot of winter white on its rear end. The road to nearby Duart Castle gave us a brief sighting (but no images) of a male Hen Harrier. On our way back to the cottage, I couldn't resist taking a photo of a bedraggled Blackbird.

Blackbird - Grasspoint Road

Back at the cottage we found Canada Geese, the Great Northern Diver and the Cormorant before we set off back down the road to get to MacGregor's Roadhouse in Craignure for dinner.

Canada Geese - Grasspoint

Great Northern Diver - Grasspoint

Cormorant - Grasspoint

On the way out to dinner we stopped for a warbler on a wire, which I think was a Willow Warbler.

Willow Warbler?
Down at the bridge the Red-breasted Mergansers were visible in the far distance. It was nearly dark by the time we set off back to the cottage. Down Grasspoint road the deer were out again, and as we neared the cottage we found Mountain Hare near the road. The Mountain Hare  are not as long-eared, or long-legged as the Brown Hare that I'm used to near home, and tend to look more like giant rabbits than hares. They turn brown in summer, but a feature is that they have white on the  hind legs all year round. This doesn't show in the image below, but was visible when they got up and ran.

Mountain Hare - Grasspoint Road

Back at Grasspoint there was still enough light to photograph the Great Northern Diver that was closer to shore than had been seen up to that point.

Great Northern Diver - Grasspoint

Monday 16th May

We woke to find that it was still chucking it down with rain. Everywhere was sodden and it had steadily been getting windier and cold since we arrived on Mull. Even the Swallows were sheltering in the gutters of the cottage.

Swallow - Grasspoint

We'd just finished breakfast at 9 o'clock (no incentive to start early because of the weather!) when I looked out of the window and saw an Otter on a rock outside. I grabbed a quick photo through the window (1st image below) as it made its way down to the water, before putting my shoes and coat on to go out and try and get some better images. 

Otter - Grasspoint
 It took a while to relocate it, but when I did I found that it had caught a huge fish and was struggling with it. I'm not sure what it had caught but it looked like a very fat eel - shiny black with no immediately apparent fins, although there was a hint that there may have been a thin one down its back.

Otter - Grasspoint

Setting out after breakfast we stopped at the bridge, where the only thing visible was a pair of warblers digging around in the seaweed. Warblers is another area where I sadly lack recognition skills, but I think that this was a Chiffchaff (no song heard - nothing had anything to sing about in this weather!). However, both birds did seem to be exceedingly pale?

Chiffchaff? - Grasspoint Road

We had a short stop in the rain beside Loch Na Keal to photograph Eider - drakes only.

Eider (drake) - Loch Na Keal

We next stopped by Loch Beg (at the end of Loch Scridain), as I'd spotted something out in the water which might have been an Otter or a log - it was an Otter. However, it was a little way out, I was getting quite used to seeing Otters, and I was distracted by the Great Northern Diver which was a little nearer.

Otter - Loch Beg

Great Northern Diver - Loch Beg

Sitting watching from the car, suddenly I noticed that the Otter had caught a crab and was making for the shore directly alongside us! It was interesting to see how it tackled the waves that were driving on shore - a bit like surfing!

Otter - Loch Beg

Unfortunately it was not long before some passing cars twigged what we were looking at and also stopped. However, these people were not content to watch from their cars, but got out and tried to approach the Otter, even though it was only about 20 metres away. Needless to say, the Otter was none too impressed and departed quickly!

My wife was not having a good day health-wise and the weather was deteriorating further, and so we set off back to the cottage. Glen More featured several raging torrents where, previously, there had been nothing or only a minor waterfall. From the Grasspoint Road bridge, the Goosander was visible again.

Goosander (drake) - Grasspoint Road

Back at the cottage I found that the rocks outside had Dunlin and a Ringed Plover sheltering on them.

Ringed Plover & Dunlin - Grasspoint

Dunlin - Grasspoint
Ringed Plover - Grasspoint

Thus ended another very wet and windy day - it had rained all day until 7.30 p.m.!

Tuesday 17th May

With the weather looking a little more promising we set off for Loch Na Keal. There is an enterprising boat owner who has trained the local White-tailed Sea Eagles (WTSE) to come for fish  which he throws out of the back of his boats. He charges £30 per head to be on the boat whilst he does this - which must be the best value £30 worth to be had in all Scotland!! We'd nearly observed this the previous day, but it was only just possible to see the boat from the shore. The weather this day was however, somewhat better. I'd have tried booking to be on the boat if the seas had been a bit calmer, and it's certainly on my list of things to do some time in the future. Today, however, I contented myself with watching from the shore. When we arrived, there was a WTSE in a distant tree behind us, waiting for the boat.

White-tailed Sea Eagle - nr. Kellan, Loch Na Keal
As soon as the boat came into view and stopped, about half a mile away, he was up. After a short ding-dong with a Buzzard he was off to the boat. Through the binoculars we could see what a fabulous view those in the boat must have got as it picked up the fish from the water, probably only 30 ft (10 metres) behind the boat! The bird then returned to its perch, fortunately flying a little nearer to us than on its outward journey, but still too far away for any good photography. A short while later it was up again and back to the boat - same distant outward path, and slightly nearer inward path. This happened three times before the boat departed again, and each time those on the boat had a fabulous close-up view. Unfortunately us landlubbers only had relatively distant views, and my photos are (although the best I have had of WTSE to date) still only record shots.

White-tailed Sea Eagle - Loch Na Keal
After this we headed round to the south side of Loch Na Keal and found a place to park for a picnic lunch. Whilst there we were entertained by a Meadow Pipit and a Pied Wagtail. The Mipit seemed to have a very boggle-eyed look to it.

Meadow Pipit - by Loch Na Keal

Pied Wagtail - by Loch Na Keal

After lunch we took the road that skirts around the west side of Ben More, and stopped to view the well-known WTSE nest that can be seen from the road. Both birds were in attendance, and two chicks clearly visible - through a scope! No chance of meaningful photography here.

I managed to find somewhere to stop near Killiemore when I spotted a Great Northern diver not very far out in the water, This gave me my best views to date.

Great Northern Diver - Killiemore (Loch Scridain)

Whilst I was photographing the Diver, a juvenile Cormorant stood on the jetty between me and the Diver,  not quite sure whether to stay or move - it stayed!

Cormorant (juvenile) - Killiemore (Loch Scridain)
We then headed further east along the shore, stopping for another GN Diver. I've never seen quite so many on Mull at this time of year, with most of them usually having headed north by now. Maybe it was the weather that  was keeping them back. I include an image of this one because the neck band was not exhibiting the well-defined pattern that all the other birds seen were.

Great Northern Diver - Loch Scridain

Our next stop was at Ardlanish, near Bunessen. The stated purpose was so that my wife could enjoy a cup of coffee at the Woolen Mill there. Having parked in the car park for the track to Ardlanish Beach, we walked to the Woolen Mill, stopping to attempt to photograph the Redpoll (about 20) that were on the wires. The results were very poor, mainly due to the awful light. Whilst standing outside the mill, drinking our coffee, I was talking to a birder there who told me about the flock of Mealy Redpoll that he'd just seen on the wires. Now I had assumed that these were Lessers. However, the more the conversation went on, the more I came to the conclusion that too much of what he was seeing was the rare version of what one might expect to see, and so I'm sticking to Lesser. I offer the best of a bad crop for you to see if you can draw your own conclusions. There was, however, no mistaking the loud calling of a Corncrake from a small patch of  brambles only 10 ft (3 metres) from where we were standing - based on past experience, we didn't even attempt to try and find it!

Lesser(?) Redpoll - Ardlanish

After coffee I left my wife having a rest in the car whilst I took the short walk down to the beach. Immediately visible were the small flock of Sanderling at the water's edge. These exhibited varying stages of plumage.

Sanderling - Ardlanish Beach

Further up the beach, in the seaweed (which the local farmer uses to fertilise his land), were several Dunlin, and a Ringed Plover.

Dunlin - Ardlanish Beach

Ringed Plover - Ardlanish Beach

That evening we stopped off at the Pennyghael Hotel for an absolutely super dinner. The chef here really knows his stuff, and the food looked amazing as well as tasting fabulous! By the time we left, over three hours later, it was virtually dark, raining again, and little was seen except deer.

This ends Part 2 of my account of our stay on Mull. The rest will follow in a few days, and will include more birds, mountain hares and the odd owl!